Reform is essential if public education is to survive and provide the product expected by taxpayers and, more importantly, the tools to allow the next generation to compete in a new economy. Recent reports regarding the latest trends on SAT scores only serve to underscore this point.
“Last week, the College Board dealt parents, teachers and the education world a serious blow. According to its latest test results, ‘SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, and combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995.’
The reading scores, which stand at 497, are noticeably lower than just six years ago, when they stood at 508. And it’s just the -second time in the last 20 years that reading scores have dropped so precipitously in a single year.”
It’ s not just the SAT that is highlighting problems with students seeking to become college bound. It’s the ACT too, which is a big deal since more Ohio students looking to go to college take it than the SAT.
“Nearly three out of four Ohio high school graduates from the class of 2011 who took the ACT test did not meet all four standards for college readiness established by the test maker, suggesting they are likely to struggle in at least some of their college-level courses.”
The SAT and ACT are by no means the be all and end all of determining the success of students once they enter college. However, like most tests, they are snapshot that contains useful information. If the current generation of students seeking to go on to college are performing worse than previous generations that is a red flag that something is not right. Sure, it could be an anomaly; sure it could be partly as a result of an expanded pool of prospective students that helps temporarily drive the numbers down (as some assert). Yet, at the end of the day, those caveats matter less than the fundamental number.
What is particularly interesting about these numbers is how this coincides with two points that bear mentioning.
The first is that the Ohio Department of Education’s (ODE) own “report card” data ranked over 90 percent of Ohio school districts as “Effective” or higher.
That appears to represent a striking disconnect with what the college preparation tests are saying. The second coincidence is that these numbers are coming out at a time when there is a renewed and appropriate focus on teacher compensation. Clearly, “merit pay” is one of the big issues contained with SB 5 and within the new biennial budget here in Ohio.
Do these numbers show that teachers are currently performing at the level that is needed? Well, ODE seems to say yes, the ACT and the SAT seem to be saying no.
Which to believe?
It is true that many High School graduates may not be going on to college. But, in the new economy that is increasingly a recipe for a less than stellar income potential. Consequently, we should be raising our expectation, not lowering them.
This means those ACT and SAT scores are pointing out that the current system is not serving the needs of today’s students nearly as well as it needs to.
How to respond is obviously complex. Whether “merit pay” will arrest or reverse this trend by better aligning teacher incentives with student outcomes is unknown right now. But everyone should agree the status quo is not acceptable. Those that want things to stay largely the same are either implicitly saying that these outcomes are ok or that if we just shower more money on schools, improvement will magically occur.
That is exactly the same tune that been playing for decades. When will we switch songs?